So I was wheeling my bag along through the airport when I noticed a man and a boy wheeling their bags along next to me. (One of the benefits of getting older is invisibility. It’s great for eavesdropping.)
The man was your average nice-looking suburban dad and the boy was your average nice-looking suburban kid, maybe nine years old. And the dad said to his son, “So! On a scale of one to 10, what do you think?”
And the kid replied, “What do I think about what?”
And the dad answered, “About how handsome I am today!” And they dissolved into giggles.
I smiled (unnoticed by the gigglers), thinking what a sweet moment that was. And then I wondered—would we women ever think of sharing a joke like that? Can you imagine a mother saying to her daughter, “What do you think about how pretty I am today?” and then the two of them giggling together?
The topic of our own looks is so fraught for us. We don’t dare say aloud, “I’m pretty today!” or even “I look okay today!” for reasons we can barely articulate. We’ve all heard women uttering nasty little bits of self-hatred instead—“Oh, I’m so fat in these pants,” “Oh, I’m such a mess.” Would we ever say such a thing to a friend—“Oh, you’re so fat in those pants”? Never. Then why do we say them to ourselves?
The topic of our own looks carries such baggage we can’t even bear to name it to ourselves, let alone to others, let alone as light heartedly as that cheerful dad joking with his son in the airport. It’s sad when you think about it—we won’t let ourselves admit that we’re beautiful.
If I had the power to do it, I’d lose that baggage in the depths of the airport forever. Let’s free ourselves to talk honestly and positively about our looks. Can we go even further than that? Let’s free ourselves to giggle affectionately with our friends and families about our looks.
So, on a scale of one to 10, what do I think about how pretty you are today? I think you’re beautiful, you beautiful person, you. What do you think?
Audrey Novak Riley is director for stewardship and development for Women of the ELCA.
Photo by Clare Bell, used with permission